Gearing up for 2017

2016 has presented some unique challenges for me both personally and professionally. At the beginning of this year, I was running a helpdesk for a building products company by the name of Architectural Testing Inc., or ATI for short. ATI was undergoing a huge transition into it’s new parent company Intertek, and I was tasked with transitioning the helpdesk to the standard Intertek systems. It was quite a large undertaking, the biggest part of which was helping people within ATI understand the change and be ready and willing to make it. Essentially, it was my job to change a culture.

Upon completing the transition, it was time for me to either step into a new role there, or move on. With the open position here at Penn Manor, I could not be more excited to take this path and begin an exciting new journey in the world of IT. The new school year opened the flood gates on me, and I was bombarded with the interesting complexities that education brings to technology, and that technology brings to education.

It took me quite some time to begin to understand the ins and outs of the educational system, and the needs and goals of the teachers here. At the first faculty meetings at both Central Manor and LeTort Elementary schools, I talked about my commitment to providing the best possible support for these teachers and my attitude toward technology. Teachers should have the freedom to teach, and technology should be a powerful tool in their arsenal. Technology shouldn’t get in the way, shouldn’t break just when they need it, and shouldn’t be intimidating. It is my goal to give these teachers the confidence they need to use appropriate technology in their classrooms, and to be able to focus on teaching, not on whether some device will work or not.

This freedom and confidence is as interesting and challenging as the cultural transition I faced at ATI, or even more so. During this coming semester, I will be implementing some practical things that I believe will help to move these buildings in a good direction. It will be exhilarating to see what the staff and the students will be able to do together in the coming months with just a little support and direction.

OpenShot – Video Masters

6th grade at Letort finished a video project today. The assignment was to make a video giving a review of a particular book. This was quite a challenging exercise! In order to finish the project, students had to work as a team, crafting slides and props, developing a narrative, recording audio and video, and in some cases reaching outside the box to generate content. Here is a video one of the teams made. This is 100% student generated content!

The hardest job was the editor, who’s task it was to add all the video clips, audio, pictures and other resources to openshot and export a final cut. Some of them learned the hard way that an hour or more of work in openshot can quickly disappear with a simple misstep in where the files are saved.

Techy Talk: Our student laptops take advantage of the guest account for user access, which doesn’t allow files to be saved through reboots. We provide a “student work” folder in the image so that files can be saved there from the guest account. A project in OpenShot is simply a file with references to the locations of the files in it, which saves hard drive space and processing time. If any files are added to OpenShot from a location outside the student work folder, the project will crash when OpenShot opens, and there’s no way to recover it (that I was able to find).

Once we figured out how to work around the glitch, the projects mostly sailed calmly to completion. Finishing a project like this is always rewarding. Students gave great feedback after each video and talked about the things they learned.

This classroom is now ready to tackle a project like this again, hopefully with very little help from me, which they plan to do in late January.

Tech Tip – Google Forms

Google Forms is an easy way to get feedback or even have a quiz. If you’re a teacher at Penn Manor, you can use your Google account to create Google forms. From Google.com, click on the apps menu:  then click on “More”, and then you’ll see a link to “Forms”

It might ask you if you would like a tour, which will walk you through making your first form. Here is a simple example of what you can create with Google Forms.

Shelby Foster created this video demonstrating how you can view responses to your Google forms.

Quizlet Review

Some teachers in the district are using a website by the name of Quizlet. It’s a very powerful flash card application that gives you a lot of options for working with flash cards. I took a moment to try it myself, and I’m very excited to share what I found.

Signup is easy, and once inside, you’ll be presented with a dashboard that allows you to jump right in and start making content. Here’s what a new set of flash cards looks like.

Quizlet is free, but some of the more advanced features are only available with a paid subscription. The free level still allows you to create quiz sets, and use other people’s sets. The paid version lets you add pictures to your quizzes and better control larger groups.

My favorite feature of Quizlet is the set of games they offer. It’s one thing to look through some flash cards and try to memorize them, it’s another to delve into an interactive puzzle with your words and definitions where you have to put the pieces together.

 

Once you’re a little more comfortable with the content for a topic, there’s even more gamification waiting for you. In the “gravity” game, you’re given a keyword or a definition, and you must try to type the answers as they fall from the sky.

Inkscape in Elementary School

For our video project in 6th grade at LeTort, we used Inkscape to make titles and slides. Inkscape is an open source illustration tool that is surprisingly powerful. Some open source graphics programs are ages behind equivalent Adobe products, but Inkscape is an exception.

Students learned how to create interesting overlays and titles in Inkscape that they will use for their current video project. Computer illustration uses vector graphics. Unlike a photo, vector graphics use points and geometry to draw lines and shapes. Graphics made in vector are infinitely scalable. Below is a title slide that one of the students is working on. Notice the controls they have for choosing colors, size, and direction.

Learning illustration will be a very valuable tool for these students for many future projects in middle school, high school, and beyond. It’s exciting to see their ability to jump in and start creating content like this so quickly.

Upcoming video project with 6th grade

Today I will start working with Beth Mitchell’s class at LeTort on a video project. Students will work in groups of 4 to make a video on a given topic.

Making a video can be a challenging exercise. Since each group will have 4 people, we will break up the project into 4 distinct roles to make it easier for each person. One person will use Cheese to record photos and videos, another will make slides and titles in Inkscape, and another will put it all together in OpenShot, depicted here. With all these moving parts, it will be important for each team to have a leader who will guide their project to completion.

 

This will be a great springboard for future projects involving elementary students at Penn Manor.

So Many Platforms

Penn Manor teachers and students interact with a wide range of online platforms and websites. These sites each have a lot of value for the kids.

Recently, I have started exploring these one at a time in a little more depth. It’s been very exciting to learn all the features of these web apps, and I’m looking forward to having better answers to questions that teachers have about them.

Here are some sites that are used on a daily basis in Penn Manor Elementary schools:

  • Google Drive
  • Moodle
  • WordPress
  • ConnectEd (by McGraw Hill)
  • Spelling City

 

Connect A Student Laptop To Your Projector

Sometimes it can be helpful to show students exactly what they will see on their student laptop before asking them to do something on it.

This IT-Guide will show you how to connect it and set it to mirror like the picture above.

1• Plug in the HDMI cord

On the left side of the student laptop near the front is an HDMI port. Take the HDMI cable out of your laptop and plug it in to the student laptop.

2• Change the display settings

In the upper left of the screen, click the Ubuntu button (cog). In the search box, type “display”, and click the Display icon.

In the dialog that opens, click the “Mirror displays” checkbox.

Now, click Apply in the lower right, and click “Keep This Configuration” to confirm the change.

 

Here is a quick animation of the steps. I hope you can follow it.

The student laptops will clear these settings on the next reboot, so you’ll need to do this each time you boot it up if you want to use it to project.

Let me know if you find this post helpful by leaving a comment!

Fun Fact Friday – Antarctica

Our topic last Friday for Fun Fact Friday at Central Manor was Antarctica. 1st grade has been learning about the land of ice, and on Friday, they had a little taste of what it might be like on the coldest continent.

Antarctica

Among the interesting facts on the screens was a live webcam at McMurdo Station, facts about wildlife and geography there, and a time-lapse of the never setting sun over the south pole.